Luomo: Convivial

Listen back-to-back to Sasu Ripatti's first and fourth Luomo albums and you'd swear you're listening to the work of two completely different artists. The Vocalcity debut overflows with ideas, hooks, and a barely-contained vitality and, when it was released in 2000, the material's relative lack of polish proved less a handicap than a refreshing change from the ultra-slick productions genre artists typically issued. Rough edges are absent on Convivial, a tightly-crafted hour-long collection of collaborations with singers such as Cassy, Sascha Ring (aka Apparat), Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters), Robert Owens, Sue-C, and long-time Luomo associate Johanna Iivanainen (the album title references the social vibe that permeated the album's production). Largely created in Berlin and completed in Finland (mirroring Ripatti's own relocation from the German capital to his home country), the new album's a somewhat middling affair with some great cuts packaged with some less enthralling pieces.

The opener “Have You Ever” gets the album off to a good start with a ferociously grooving house pulse acting as a more-than-solid base for Cassy's emotive musings. Ripatti weaves a lithe and serpentine bass line, high-velocity beat pattern, and synth stabs into a precision-tooled whole, and, though its laconic demeanour is at cross-purposes to the urgent tempo, Cassy's vocal delivery proves appealing. On “Love You All,” Ring shows himself to be the album's secret weapon by delivering its best vocal. Pairing his soaring falsetto swoon with a pulsating tech-house throb proves to be a masterstroke and once again the combination of a languorous vocal melody with a racing rhythm pulse proves successful, and juxtaposing elegiac string melodies to hammering synth patterns likewise works well too. Truth be told, the tracks that follow have a hard time matching the level of the opening pair.

Shears guests on the poppy “If I Can't” which, though decent enough (the intricately woven vocal lines, in particular, call to mind Luomo's previous output), can't help but seem lightweight coming after the openers. “Nothing Goes Away,” which features Sue Cie who less sings than utters her words in a Sprechstimme style, is likewise passable but hardly signifies a major advance. We get some hint of Robert Owens' vocal gifts during “Robert's Reason” but he's unfortunately reduced to atmospheric vocal colour rather than given an opportunity to showcase his considerable talents; furthermore, by choosing to process his vocals into cut-up fragments, Ripatti negates the soulful impact Owens' untreated vocalizing would have provided so naturally. Presented as a series of chorus swirls, the unidentified singer “Chubbs” similarly adopts a background role in “Gets Along Fine” though the percolating percussive energy of the song goes a long way to compensating for the soulful vocalist's diminished role. Three of the remaining four tracks feature Johanna Iivanainen: a house choir of Iivanainens chirps through the background of “Sleep Tonight,” a robustly swinging workout that exudes the kind of grooving heat and fire that's largely contained in the other tracks, while the closing “Lonely Music Co.” references Ripatti's past more than any of the other eight tracks. In a manner more reminiscent of Vladislav Delay than Luomo, the synth bass line and Iivanainen's atmospheric presence wend an unhurried path through a hazily defined thicket of percussive clatter and electronic washes. At day's end, Convivial's a solid enough outing, then, but one that won't challenge Vocalcity or The Present Lover for Luomo dominance. Regardless, if “Love You All” is indicative of the magic Ring and Ripatti can create together, perhaps the two should consider an album-length collaboration, something along the lines of the Apparat-Ellen Allien pairing Orchestra of Bubbles that appeared a few years ago.

December 2008